Liking the Child You Love

How to build a better relationship with your kids—even when they're driving you crazy.

Don't Let Toxic Thoughts Cripple Your Relationship

The link between toxic thoughts and poor communication

It is widely known that honest communication is fundamental to a successful relationship. What gets in the way?

For relationship partners to effectively communicate, they have to be able to think clearly and rationally about their relationships. Toxic thoughts are often what get in the way. Toxic thoughts are those rigid, not so charitable words you say to yourself about your partner. If ignored and left to fester, they can sabatoge healthy communication.   

My book Why Can't You Read My Mind? discusses how couples tend to think toxically in relationships. For example, if you're automatically thinking, "He's so selfish," every time your husband fails to do what you want, your communication is bound to be unproductive and lead to arguments or shutdowns. Healthy thinking allows communication to flow and that in turn allows trust to build.

It will help to challenge your toxic thoughts and consider more helathy alternative thoughts. So returning to the previous example, perhaps your husband is self-absorbed in a certain way but that does mean that he is totally selfish.

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I have identified nine toxic thought patterns in Why Can't You Read My Mind?

#1 The All or Nothing Trap: You see your partner as either negatively always or never doing things.

#2 Catastrophic Conclusions: One partner exaggerates negative actions and events concerning the other partner.

#3 The “Should” Bomb: One partner assumes the other will meet one or more of his or her needs—just because he or she should know that you need.

#4 Label Slinging: You unfairly negatively label your partner and lose sight of his or her positive qualities.

#5 The Blame Game: You unfairly and irrationally blame your partner for relationship issues.

#6 Emotional Short Circuits: Emotional Short Circuit occurs when one partner convinces him- or herself that his or her partner’s emotions can’t be “handled. “

#7 Overactive Imagination: In this case you reach negative conclusions about your partner that are not based in reality.

#8 Head Game Gamble: You try to outsmart your partner by erroneously assuming he has certain motives.

#9 Disillusionment Doom: Disillusionment Doom occurs when partners focus on idealized expectations of their partner that are rooted in the past.

Be on the lookout for toxic thoughts so they don't wreak havoc. Again, this is why thinking carefully, rationally, and not automatically in relationships is so important. If you're thinking that your husband is overweight and you're disillusioned ("He was thin when I married him. I didn't sign up for this!") this is another way our toxic thoughts (I call this one "Disillusionment Doom") sabotage our healthy communication in our attempts to share our feelings. If you're thinking this but saying, "I'm just concerned about your health," then you're not being honest and it will show.

Remember that empathy, not so much love, is the "emotional glue" that holds couples together. Think about it. Don't we all know of some divorced couples who still may love one another but they never truly understood each other?  They likely fell prey to toxic thoughts that destroyed their ability to be empathetic.

I think of empathy as a bridge that connects one partner to the other. Each of you as partners grew up with your own unique experiences and expectations. When our needs or expectations are not met we often fill with anxiety and go toxic in our thinking. If you challenge your toxic thoughts like I showed above with the "selfish husband" you will stop toxic thoughts from depleting empathy in your relationship. 

Being empathetic is the best way to bridge the gap of your differences. In a truly mutual intimate relationship, which means a partnership of shared understanding, partners are stimulated and energized by genuinely empathizing with one another. Empathy creates a sense of emotional safety that lays out the groundwork for honesty. This is because empathy leaves us less defensive, less toxic in our thinking, and more emotionally available to be honest with our intimate partner.

Jeffrey Bernstein, Ph.D., has authored four books, including 10 Days to a Less Defiant Child.

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